Rough Knob-tailed Gecko
Turtles, lizards, snakes and crocodiles all belong to the reptile family, characterised by being ectothermic (meaning that their body temperature varies with the outside temperature). There are five families of lizards in Australia, namely skinks, dragons, monitors (known locally as goannas), geckos and flap-footed or legless lizards. There are more lizards found across Australia than any other country.
Australia is also known for it’s diverse array of snakes and while there are a number of venomous species, they are generally very shy creatures and avoid encounters with humans. The highlight for many visitors is to spot the largest living reptile and apex predator, the saltwater crocodile found in the northern parts of the country.
Perhaps some of the most intriguing stories of adaptation belong to the frog family. Despite Australia having some of the harshest environmental conditions and the species continual need to stay moist, a number of frogs have evolved through behaviours such as burrowing underground. Australia's frogs vary in size from the world's largest tree frog (the white-lipped tree frog) through to the the slender-bodied javelin tree frog.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Ningaloo & Exmouth
The Ningaloo Marine Park is one of the world’s most precious nesting areas, home to 6,000 sea turtles, with three species (Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead) known to lay eggs between December and February. From January through March (approximately six weeks after laying), the hatchlings emerge across the sandy beaches in their first battle to survive numerous predators.
Autumn: Mar-May, Ningaloo & Exmouth
The Ningaloo Marine Park is one of the world’s most precious nesting areas, home to 6,000 sea turtles, with three species (Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead) nesting. From January through March (approximately six weeks after laying), the hatchlings emerge across the sandy beaches in their first battle to survive numerous predators.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Uluru-Kata Tjuta & Red Centre
Reptile eggs are hatching into many small lizards and snakes during the summer season. Blue-tongued Lizards are among the worlds largest skinks and give birth to litters of live young at the start of the year. The Central Netted Dragon is another commonly sighted species, with females producing several clutches of eggs in their first season. They can often be seen guarding their burrows which they use as a retreat for predators and to conserve water.
In the hot weather, Sand Goannas can be seen with their mouths open, fluttering their throat pouches in an effort to increase evaporation from their mouth to cool off, whilst Bearded Dragons are active during the day and can be seen defending themselves by opening their mouths and pushing their throat skin forward to make a ‘beard’. The Black-headed Monitor is a relatively small species of monitor lizard and lover of absorbing the sun’s rays at this time of year. They reside in woodlands or rocky outcrops and scurry up trees or rock cover the instant they feel threatened.
King Brown and Western Brown Snakes are more commonly sighted at this time of year, eating other snakes, rodents and lizards. They hunt by day and on warm nights but are generally shy when humans are present.
Autumn: Mar-May, Uluru-Kata Tjuta & Red Centre
April is the last month to see region’s most famous reptile, the Thorny Devil, before they burrow underground to hibernate for the winter. These lizards eat three to four species of ants and up to 100 in a sitting. Thorny Devils are renowned for the way they absorb water, through narrow grooves separating the scales of the skin that form a continuous network to the mouth.
The Long-nosed Water Dragon is a slender long-limbed reptile with a prominent snout and pale stripe along its back and lower jaw. They can often be seen on trunks, branches, rocks, along the rocky gorges in the area. Other lizards that can be seen hunting and foraging across the sand dunes, rocky outcrops and woodlands include the Sand Goanna, Bearded Dragon and Central Netted Dragon and Black-headed Monitor.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Uluru-Kata Tjuta & Red Centre
In August and September, reptiles such as Blue-tongued Lizards start coming out from their winter hibernation. The largest of Australia’s lizards with a length of 2.5 metres, the Perentie, also becomes active and can be seen occasionally scurrying across the rocky outcrops and ridges. Like all large goannas, they prey on insects birds, other reptiles and small mammals.
The warming days indicate the start of breeding season for many reptiles that mate, dig new burrows and stake new territory. Spring is one of the best times to see Sand Goannas, Bearded Dragons, Central Netted Dragons and Long Nose Water Dragons and the iconic Thorny Devil.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Flinders Ranges
The Shingleback is the most frequently sighted lizard species and the largest of the intriguing blue-tongued skinks. When threatened, Shinglebacks will open their mouth wide and stick out their thick blue tongue that contrasts vividly with their pink mouth. Throughout most of the year they are a solitary species, with females giving birth to one to two individuals between Janaury and April.
Gidgee Skinks are omnivorous species and predominantly feed on grasses and flowers, however, will opportunistically eat small invertebrates. They are highly monogamous with litters ranging from 1-8 with frequency determined on environmental conditions. Thick-tailed Geckos (also known as the Barking Geckos), Masked Rock Skinks, Tree Skinks, Boulenger's Snake-eyed Skinks, Bynoe's Geckos and Central Bearded Dragons can also be seen at this time.
The Western Brown Snake is generally a diurnal predator, however, in the hottest of months they can be active at night. They are known to feed on a variety of different prey, primarily vertebrates from lizards, smaller snakes and small rodents. This species is known for its seasonal change, becoming a much darker colour over the winter months. Breeding usually begins in spring and through to early summer, with eggs taking about 80 days to hatch.
Autumn: Mar-May, Flinders Ranges
During the warmer months, the remarkable Thick-tailed Gecko (also known as the Barking Gecko) can be heard with it’s distinctive loud barking calls that are projected when being disturbed. The breeding season begins in early Spring and lasts all the way through to May if conditions are appropriate.
The Masked Rock Skink is endemic to the Flinders Ranges with this species commonly found basking in the sun on rocky outcrops. It is active by day with the female giving birth to two or three young early Spring right through until the winter months. The Tree Skink, Boulenger's Snake-eyed Skink, Bynoe's Gecko and Central Bearded Dragon are common sightings at this time.
Yellow-faced Whipsnakes can be active during the day and feed mainly of small diurnal lizards but also frogs and lizard eggs. They will lay their clutch early summer, usually 5-20 eggs, but shelter under rocks and crevices in the winter months.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Flinders Ranges
Some of the regions most colourful residents at this time include Painted Dragons, Tawny Dragons and the Red-barred Dragons. Painted Dragons are very patient hunters, waiting for prey to come to them, consuming mainly small arthropods. At this time, breeding males will exhibit a bright blue coloration over lower throat, and vivid bright orange flush over back and shoulders to attract females.
Central Bearded Dragons are common to the area and these omnivorous lizards feed on vegetation including fruit and leaves, as well as invertebrates and small vertebrates. The beginning of spring time is a fascinating time to watch males compete for mating rights with females, with beard flaring and circling and biting all occurring. Females generally lay eggs (8-30) around November and usually take up to two weeks to hatch.
The Nobbi Dragon is also frequently sighted and the male’s side strip will turn a pronounced yellow. Thick-tailed Geckos and a regular accompaniment at outdoor dinners during breeding season, with their barking calls a real novelty for visitors.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Flinders Ranges
The colder conditions still provide opportunities to see a range of smaller skinks such as the Tree Skink, Boulenger's Snake-eyed Skink, endemic Masked Rock Skink and Gidgee Skink. The Inland Carpet Python can be occasionally found basking in middle of the day in winter, with numbers increasing in the area most likely due to the eradication of foxes. They are found most commonly along water courses and usually begin mating very start of spring laying a clutch of 40-50 eggs.
The Tree-lined watercourses and springs provide suitable habitat for the endemic Streambank Froglet. The call of the male is a very subtle, similar to the sound of a creaking hinge.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Kakadu & Arnhem Land
As waters begin to recede, Saltwater Crocodiles can be spotted in greater volumes, with small mammals and birds falling victim to ambush attacks along the waters edge, along with region’s most famous fish, the Barramundi. Freshwater Crocodiles are typically found further up the escarpments with females laying a clutch of 4-20 eggs in the sand in August. Unlike Saltwater Crocodiles the females do not guard the nest, however, they will return and excavate the nest when the eggs have hatched around November.
Green Tree Snakes, Children Pythons, Banded Tree Snakes and Olive Pythons are active along the billabongs and floodplains until the end of June, when they become more lackadaisical due to increased heat and dry conditions. One of the most intriguing smaller lizards seen at this time is the Rough Knob-tailed Gecko, with their beautiful rich purple coloured eyes and spiny rosettas across their body a remarkable sight. The Desert Tree Frog, Rocket Frog, Tornier’s Frog, Roth’s Tree Frog, Northern Dwarf Tree Frog and Little Green Tree Frog are some of the more common of the 26 frog species found across the region.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Kakadu & Arnhem Land
The largest of all living reptiles is the Saltwater Crocodiles. They are most active at this time due to males and females engaging in courtship. Females will lays eggs between November and March in a nest mound made up of mud and vegetation, typically laying from 30 to 70 eggs. The dry season is the best time to see these prehistoric creatures as their numbers concentrate in shrinking pockets of water.
Freshwater Crocodiles feed on many small animals including fish, frogs, lizards, snakes, rats, bats and birds. ’Freshies’ prefer to stay clear of their Saltwater cousins at this time and inhabit areas above the escarpment in Kakadu.
There are numerous lizards active including the alluring Fire-tailed Skink, with its bright-red tail a beautiful site against the ochre coloured rocks. Sand and Yellow-spotted Goannas, can be seen stalking through the woodlands, with some laying their eggs into the cathedral termite mounds to protect their eggs from the high temperatures. The Copland’s Rock Frog inhabits the rock escarpments and is particularly active along the edges of creeks, with breeding commencing in October.
Autumn: Mar-May, Kakadu & Arnhem Land
The renowned Frilled-neck Lizard is more active during the wet season, but can still be seen at this time with it’s spectacular frill that encircles its neck when alarmed. Males are larger than females and can reach up to a metre in length. Mertens’ Water Goannas have their young at this time and are a common sight along the billabongs and streams, where they forage for extended periods underwater, feeding on fishes, frogs and crustaceans. Sand and Yellow-spotted Goannas are found further inland across the Savanna woodlands, searching for reptile and bird eggs, invertebrates, lizards and birds.
The beautiful Dahl’s Aquatic Frog is commonly seen on the floodplains at the end of the wet season where they float during the day and bask on lily pads. They are typically green with a beautiful emerald stripe down the middle of the back and are common prey for the Merten’s Water Goanna. The Northern Dwarf Tree Frog, Little Green Tree Frog and Brown Tree Frog are also common sightings across the region.
Green Tree Snakes, Children Pythons, Banded Tree Snakes and Olive Pythons are more active along the billabongs and floodplains during this time, commonly sighted from the airboats, as are the regions most famous resident, the Saltwater Crocodile.